Bottled milk was once the norm in cities and larger towns. I was a boy who grew up milking 120 head before going to school and then again as soon as we got off the bus in the afternoon. It was an eye-opener to see bottled milk delivered when I first visited Melbourne in the early 1950s!
Of even greater interest to a country lad were the horses and the carts on which the milk was carried. The horse would stop, the milkman hop down and run with his wire basket — sometimes two — and drop apparently random numbers of bottles on the porches of two, three or four houses before returning to the cart. Meanwhile, the horse would have wandered slowly along the street to meet him in front of the last of the houses in that group. They’d then move along a house or two and begin the process all over again.
I reckoned those horses were almost as smart as grandfather’s plough team, but felt sorry for them having to live in the city. That’s another story for another time though.
Do you remember the milkman leaving bottled milk? He was an institution, the milko, not least because he knew the neighbourhood and was often used to pass on information between people along his run. Many a time he was first on the scene following an overnight crime, and often able to offer police a description of a suspect seen fleetingly hopping a fence or haring off around a corner.
I loved the bag that hung around his neck. It was a stout leather device with a spring loaded bronze tongue that passed through an elongated, copper trimmed eye on its flap. He always carried what appeared a king’s ransom in it, and people quite unashamedly used him as a bank for small change.
This is intended as a slightly different look at the milko and the notes he got. Due to varying domestic needs, notes were often left for readjustment of quantities to be left. Sometimes, too, the lady of the house would leave a little personal note to say ‘thank you’ or, as seems to have happened on odd occasions, a dalliance. Ah, but perhaps it’s best we not go too far down this latter path.
Many of the milk bottle notes were ambiguous, while others were downright funny. I’ve gathered a few and hope they’ll raise a chuckle …
“No milk today. Please do not leave milk at No. 14 either as he is dead until further notice.”
“Milko, please close the gate behind you because the birds keep pecking the tops off the milk.”
“Dear Milkman: I’ve just had a baby, please leave another.”
“When you leave my milk please knock on my bedroom window and wake me because I want you to give me a hand to turn the mattress.”
“Please leave an extra pint of paralysed milk.”
“Please send me a form for cheap milk. I have a baby two months old and did not know about it until a neighbour told me.”
“Please leave details about cheap milk as I am stagnant.”
“Will you tell your horse not to poo outside my house. It’s better at number 17, he puts it on his strawberries. (Funny thing, I always used cream.)”
“Cancel one pint after the day after today.”
“My back door is open. Please put milk in ‘fridge, get money out of cup in drawer and leave change on kitchen table in pennies, because we want to play bingo tonight.”
“Milkman, please could I have half a loaf today.”
“Please don’t leave any more milk. All they do is drink it.”
“Please knock. My TV’s broken down and I missed last night’s Coronation Street. Will you tell me what happened if you saw it over a cup of tea?”
“Milk is needed for the baby. Father is unable to supply it.”
“Please cancel milk. I have nothing coming into the house but two sons on the dole.”
“Just to let you know my aunt died at number 23 and won’t need milk for the foreseeable future.”
“Milkman please put the coal on the boiler, let dog out and put newspaper inside the screen door. P.S. Don’t leave any milk today.”
And now, to end with two models of clarity:
“Please leave no milk today. When I say today, I mean tomorrow, for I wrote this note yesterday.”
“From now on please leave two pints every other day and one pint on the days in between, except Wednesdays and Saturdays when I don’t want any milk.”